Note: I wrote this post nearly two years ago for another website. My grandmother passed away not long after. I am so glad my children had that last year with her, they got to know her and hear so many stories they wouldn’t have otherwise.
I recently read a blog post from a homeschooling mother who expressed guilt over taking time off to care for an ill family member. My heart broke for her. While the kids may have been missing some math lessons, they were learning a lot more. Missed content can be covered quickly, time with loved ones cannot be.
We are never promised another day, hug the ones you love tight and be with them. Math can wait.
We Took a Year off from Homeschooling and Learned Compassion
My grandmother is 93 years old. When you live to be 93, nothing is a given and not very
much is a surprise. Grandma’s eyes no longer work, her ears are unreliable, and the very
organs that have sustained her through 93 years of life are failing.
My grandmother is dying.
As a child, I knew pretty early on that my grandmother was different from everyone else’s.
She didn’t stay home and bake cookies, she didn’t live in the country and hang her
laundry to dry, and the microwave was her favorite cooking tool. My grandmother was
widowed relatively early in life, she lived in the big city, rode the city bus, and traveled the
world. When my best friend’s grandmother was making homemade pierogies my
grandmother was standing in Red Square. Every few years my siblings and I would be
lucky enough to accompany my grandmother on these trips, which made me the envy of
all of my friends.
When I began having children my grandmother began slowing down, trading her passport
for a walker. My children don’t know her as the independent woman she was to me, but
as a frail woman with time-touched skin who needs help to accomplish everyday tasks
you and I don’t even think about; like putting on clothing.
Every few days I visit my grandmother to drop off groceries and wheel her to lunch. My
parents are her primary caregivers but we do a good job of tag teaming the lesser of my
grandmother’s needs. Initially I felt the need to shield my children from what was
happening. I wanted my children to remember my grandmother as she was before time
stole her dignity. A few months ago, however, my perspective changed.
When we entered the assisted living facility my grandmother was sitting in the common living room
listening to a recording of a radio show from the 1940s. After we greeted her she asked us if we knew
who Amelia Earhart was and she recounted the story as if it had only happened yesterday. It just so
happens that we were beginning to study Amelia Earhart in preparation to audition for a play about her life.
It was the universe’s way of reminding me that my grandmother is still here, just as she always was, even if
it’s harder to see.
My grandmother was a teenager when Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared. She told us,
in vivid detail, about how she and her family would gather around the radio and listen for
updates. My grandmother is a treasure trove of experience.
My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. She saw her husband and son go off to fight in wars.
She witnessed first hand the fight for racial equality in our country.
My grandmother is a living time capsule and has so much to teach us, but it goes far beyond that. I noticed
something else when I began bringing my children to the assisted living facility on my visits. I noticed that
after a few visits my children started reacting differently to her and her neighbors.
My youngest child is no longer scared to talk to the woman with “wrinkly skin” and my oldest is the first to
volunteer to clean my grandmother’s kitchenette. They speak with the other facility residents and
sometimes even walk the neighbor’s dog. My children step right in to help my grandmother in any way
My children watch me help my grandmother and they learn something even more valuable
than history; compassion.
Compassion is a virtue we all have within us but it can fade away without practice and the
opportunity to nurture it. None of us know what is in store for us or how we will face the
end of our lives, but I know that when I get there I want to be surrounded by love and
compassion so I have deliberately decided to nurture the virtue of compassion in my
children. As far as traditional schooling goes, in this phase of our lives I’ve realized that
while math is important, it can wait for a little while because my children are learning
something even more important.